12 July 2012 08:41 ET
Syria’s envoy to Baghdad has defected to the opposition and, according to Iraqi officials, is in Qatar.
Nawaf Fares, the first senior Syrian diplomat to abandon President Bashar al-Assad, has urged other politicians and military figures to follow suit.
News of his whereabouts came from Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari. His defection was first reported by Qatar-based TV channel al-Jazeera.
Syria has responded by formally dismissing Mr Fares from his post.
Meanwhile, government forces have shelled an area of Damascus, activists have reported.
Head of Sunni Uqaydat tribe, straddling Syria’s eastern border with Iraq
- Served as top Baath Party official in Deir al-Zour province
- Appointed Baghdad ambassador 16 Sept 2008
- First Syrian envoy to Iraq for nearly three decades
- Resigns from Baath Party and as ambassador 11 July 2012
Mortar rounds were said to have been fired into orchards in Kafr Souseh in an apparent offensive against rebels.
One man died and a number of other people were wounded when tanks and armoured vehicles went into a built-up area, reports said.
Independent confirmation is impossible, as journalists’ freedom of movement is heavily restricted.
Mr Fares’s defection comes just a week after a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Assad also defected.
He confirmed his decision in a statement broadcast both on TV and on Facebook.
With Syrian revolutionary flags behind him, he read out the statement saying he was resigning both as Syria’s ambassador to Iraq and as a member of the ruling Baath Party.
The defection of Nawaf Fares is an embarrassing blow to the Syrian regime, and a clear sign of the stress the conflict is generating, but it does not necessarily herald a spate of similar desertions.
The government’s discomfort was reflected in an official statement from the foreign ministry in Damascus, lamely announcing that the ambassador had been “relieved of his duties”.
US and Syrian opposition officials seized on Mr Fares’s resignation as a sign that the regime is crumbling.
But the defection of the deputy oil minister earlier this year did not trigger a cascade of similar moves by officials, as he urged.
As with the case of Maj-Gen Munaf Tlas, who fled the country last week, the ambassador may have had specific reasons for turning.
He is a Sunni tribal leader whose area around Deir al-Zor has been heavily battered by government forces recently, as had Gen Tlas’s mainly Sunni hometown Rastan.
The defections are clearly a sign of the times, but given the gravity of what is happening, it is surprising they have been so few and far between.
“I call on all party members to do the same because the regime has transformed it into a tool to oppress the people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity.
“I announce, from this moment on, that I am siding with the people’s revolution in Syria, my natural place in these difficult circumstances which Syria is going through.”
Syria’s foreign ministry said he had made statements that contradicted the duties of his post and no longer had any relation to the Syrian embassy in Baghdad.
The BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says this is a highly damaging defection for President Assad.
Mr Fares, significantly, is also chief of a Sunni tribe straddling Syria’s eastern border with Iraq, our correspondent adds.
That area, around the city of Deir al-Zour, has become a hotbed of support for the rebels and has been heavily bombarded in recent weeks.
Syria has been convulsed by internal conflict since protests against President Assad began early last year. The protests turned into an armed rebellion and thousands of people have been killed.
Last week, senior army officer Brig Gen Manaf Tlas fled Syria via Turkey.
He was a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard and as a young man he attended military training with President Assad.
Gen Tlas had been under a form of home arrest since May 2011 because he opposed security measures imposed by the regime, sources said.
In a separate development, Western nations are pressing the UN to threaten Damascus with sanctions as it considers renewing the mandate for its observer mission in Syria which expires on 20 July.
They want a 10-day ultimatum to be part of a Security Council resolution on the future of the UN’s observer mission in the country. A new resolution must be passed before the mission’s mandate ends on Friday next week.
The mission had a 90-day remit to monitor a truce, but fighting has continued largely unabated.
The truce formed part of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has called for “clear consequences” for the Syrian government and rebels if the ceasefire is not observed.
Action in response to threats to peace, breaches of peace and acts of aggression
Chapter 7 of UN Charter
- Article 41 enables Security Council to decide measures not involving armed force
- Can suspend economic and diplomatic relations as well as rail, sea and other communications
- If Article 41 measures are inadequate, Article 42 enables Security Council to take action by air, sea or land forces for international peace and security
Russia has suggested a 90-day extension. But Western states say a simple rollover of the mission is not enough.
A draft resolution has been circulated threatening Damascus with sanctions within 10 days, if it fails to stop using heavy weapons and pull back its troops from towns and cities.
The UK’s envoy to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, told reporters that Britain, France, the US and Germany would propose making compliance with the ceasefire mandatory under Chapter 7 of the UN charter.
Last week, more than 100 countries called on the Security Council to invoke Article 41 of Chapter 7, which stops short of military intervention.
Russia has said use of Chapter 7 is a “last resort”. China, which like Russia has vetoed the two previous attempts to impose tougher measures, has said it will support a rollover of the mission.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
how he obtains/loses his heart’s desire = NS = 51 = The president. The government. Doing the right thing.
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